Cricket World Cup 2023: Birthday boy Kohli’s historic century sets a difficult 327 run chase for South Africa

Virat Kohli gave his fans a perfect birthday treat when he finally struck his highly-anticipated 49th ODI century in an unbeaten innings of supreme patience and perseverance to power India to above-par 326/5 against South Africa in the World Cup here on Sunday.

A frenzied response, South Africa’s resurgence and the Kohli’s missing maestro Sachin Tendulkar’s record-equalling 49th ODI ton twice in three innings made an ideal setting to the match on Kohli’s 35th birthday.

The Indian run-machine, who got out for 95 and 88 against New Zealand and Sri Lanka, did not disappoint the ecastic Eden full house giving a perfect icing on the cake to score the historic century on a difficult Eden track.

The monkey was finally off his back in the 49th over when Kohli gently pushed Kagiso Rabada for a single and followed it up with his usual quiet celebration nowadays.

It came off 119 balls with 10 fours, that summed up how Kohli toiled hard for the milestone.

For Kolhi, who remained unbeaten on 101 facing 121 deliveries, it came in 277 innings, while Tendulkar brought up his 49th ODI century in 452 innings.

The relief was well evident as he took his helmet off, kissed his bat, and saluted the crowd giving a standing ovation with their smartphone flash guns lighiting up the atmosphere.

The century seemed assured this time when Kohli crunched Rabada through covers in the previous overs to race to 97.

Barring Keshav Maharaj who bowled his full quota at a stretch, no other bowler could create an impact on an different looking Eden wicket that became slower as the game progressed and aided spin.

There was more setback for the Proteas as pacer Lungi Ngidi limped off and was unable to complete his over. Marco Jansen also looked wayward and leaked eight in extras.

Unlike any other day, the dry Eden pitch on a hazy overcast evening offered vicious turn and South Africa were quick to bring on their ace spinner Maharaj right after the powerplay.

India’s turbo-charged start by Rohit was already halted by Kagiso Rabada’s wicket-maiden first over, and Maharaj produced a classical left-arm spin to remove the in-form Gill (23; 24b).

That ball dipped so much that it enticed Gill to come forward and but then it turned away sharply to clip the top of stumps, leaving the Indian opener in utter disbelief.

Well-aware of Kohli’s weakness against Maharaj, the South African skipper had the left-arm spinner go non-stop at one end.

But Kohli navigated the phase well in an intriguing battle against Maharaj. Shreyas played a tortoise-like innings looked to be the weak link, but Kohli guarded him well in an exceptional Test-match like alliance.

The Birthday boy also survived a review for caught behind on 37 when he pushed defensively at a snorter from Maharaj, as the Proteas appealed for a caught-behind.

The replays showed no spike on UltraEdge, in the only opportunity for Maharaj.who made the most the conditions, but only to be restrained with figures of 10-0-30-1 under sheer brilliance of Kohli who scored 16 off 29 balls against him.

That South Africa’s second spinner Tabraiz Shamsi could not make full use of the conditions unlike his Chepauk show, helped the Indian duo.

While Kohli and Iyer played with respect against Maharaj, they were happy to take charge against Shamsi.

Kohli brought up his fifty off 67 balls — his sixth in eight innings in the World Cup — in Maharaj’s last over, while Opting to bat, skipper Rohit Sharma gave India a blistering start before South Africa arrested the run flow with one wicket each by Rabada and Maharaj.

At a venue where he has the ODI world record score of 264, Rohit smashed a 24-ball 40 before Bavuma’s terrific catch at mid-off halted his innings.

Rohit smashed Rabada powerfully through covers, but the South Africa skipper held firmly to the ball in front of his eyes.

The Indian skipper quickly got off the blocks after surviving on duck off a Lungi Ngidi delivery that hit him high on the thigh pad.

But since then it was a one-way traffic for Rohit who took Ngidi and Marco Jansen to cleaners.

Lanky leftarm pacer Jansen, who was South Africa’s main bowler in the powerplay, bowled a lot of freebies and was wayward.

With Rohit taking charge on him, his figures read 4-0-43-0 — the first time Jansen went wicketless in the powerplay that yielded 91 runs for India.

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